Life Enhancing Lessons from Sports
Aug. 5, 2022

S3 E5 “Hug the Vision” – feat. Lex Gillette

S3 E5 “Hug the Vision” – feat. Lex Gillette

Blind + Paralympic Long Jumper = Visionary


On this week’s episode, John sits down with five-time Paralympic medalist, Lex Gillette! Hear from Lex himself about his experience with sudden blindness at a young age and how he overcame this to get where he is today. 

Keep up with Lex:
https://lexgillette.com/

Thanks to our episode sponsor, Roka! Use code "SLB" for 20% off your purchase at Roka.
https://www.roka.com/

Transcript

INTRO: 

Here we go. This is season three of sports life balance.

Lex Gillette: 

There was one day that I come home from school. I went through my normal routine that evening as I was in the bathroom. That is when I started noticing that my sight was blurred so I was sitting inside of the bathtub, getting cleaned up for bed. I remember looking at my hands and looking at the lights in the ceiling, looking at all of the scenes and images within the bathroom and they were looking murky, blurred things. So I get out of the bathtub hop onto the bathroom counter, look in the mirror. That is when I felt that fear within because it was it was hard for me to see my reflection in the mirror. So it was literally like looking at a disfigured image of myself.

JOHN MOFFET: 

Enter introducing blind Paralympic long jumper Lex Gillette, talking about the terrifying first moments of losing his sight as an eight year old boy. I'm John Moffet. And I'm glad you're here for another informative and also inspiring episode of sports life balance. At first, when Lex lost his sight he felt overcome by the darkness. But with the patient guidance from his mother and the loving imagination of his grandmother, the world around him opened up in his mind. His talent for jumping was discovered in grade school and with the early support from teachers and coaches Lexa learned a long jump. By 19 years old he had made his first Paralympic team. And to date Lexus earned five silver medals in five Paralympic Games. So now it's time for Lex to tell his story of how he sees with his mind by embracing his lifelong ethos that there's no need for sight when you have a vision. We're here at the Chula Vista elite training center in beautiful Chula Vista this formerly the Olympic Training Center in this has left South Texas house to right. I mean, you've lived here for a long time. How long have you lived here?

Lex Gillette: 

Since 2008?

JOHN MOFFET: 

Wow. So you have lived here for 14 years? Yeah, I'm guessing that one of the reasons that you keep coming back and staying here is because it's a familiar environment. And it's someplace that you as a blind person feel comfortable training and living and and in recreating and everything else?

Lex Gillette: 

Absolutely, it makes life really easy because you have everything in close proximity. And you don't have to worry about hopping in a car to go to this training facility or going to get your acupuncture done or getting the adjustment here or going to get a massage there. Literally everything is here from training venues to the dining hall sports medicine, strength and conditioning, gym, sports performance, everything.

JOHN MOFFET: 

And so that's super vital to you. Because you don't always want to be relying on somebody else to drive you places and stuff like that. Right? You're able to get around with excuse me with your cane. And, and and you're very familiar with it. Yeah, it

Lex Gillette: 

totally aligns with how I was raised, which is really tapping into that independent, independent achievement. And doing everything that, quite frankly, that you should be doing, given the resources as you

JOHN MOFFET: 

as an elite athlete. Yeah. Yeah. So I'm sure it's a really busy life, too. I mean, obviously, we talked about training, there's traveling and then competing, but some somewhere in there and that busy schedule, you found a time to write your memoir fly. Why did you decide to go with that title?

Lex Gillette: 

It is, I think it's just the epitome of everything that I do literally as as long jumper running down the runway, leaping, soaring through the air and landing in the sand. But also, when I think about flying, I think about the trajectory of my life. How gravity plays a part in that. And in my mind, gravity is in the form of it comes in the form of people who try and hold you down and Oh, naysayers and people who try and lock you to the earth but every time that I'm on the runway, that is my opportunity to defy gravity,

JOHN MOFFET: 

defy the gravity of physics and also defy the gravity of what people expect of you and the limitations they placed upon you. Absolutely. Wow, that's fascinating. You you have as I said earlier, you you're blind but you haven't always been blind. Tell me a bit about your childhood and, and growing up.

Lex Gillette: 

I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a as a kid in Raleigh. I was doing everything that you can imagine a seven year old eight year old boy doing right I was outside playing the video games and riding my bicycle playing hide and seek we had a tree house in the backyard or there was one day that I had come home from school. I went through my normal routine. That evening as I was in the bathroom, that is when I started noticing that my sight was blurred. So I was sitting inside of the bathtub, getting cleaned up for bed. And I remember looking at my hands and looking at the lights in the ceiling, looking at all of the scenes and images within the bathroom. And they were looking murky, blurred faint. So I get out of the bathtub hop on to the bathroom counter, look in the mirror. That is when I felt that fear within because it was, it was hard for me to see my reflection in the mirror. So it was literally like looking at a disfigured image of myself. I told my mom, she had thought maybe I had gotten something in my eyes from playing outside. Today, you know, I was rolling around in the grass and the dirt and things like that. So we took some water clean my eyes out, which made it feel better, but it didn't clear my sight any Yeah. We then went to the doctor. That is when they discovered that I was suffering from retinal detachment.

JOHN MOFFET: 

Oh my heavens, so. So then it was I'm assuming trips to the hospital various forms of surgery trying to reverse this process of you losing your sight.

Lex Gillette: 

Yeah, literally inside of going into doctor's offices, doctor's visits, going to the hospital for the entire year, that I was eight years old 10 operations, going through that process of go you get the examination, you discover that your retinas have detached again, you have another procedure to fix that you go through three or four weeks of bandages, over your eye and eye drops and all types of visits to see what the progress is in terms of the healing. Eventually figuring out that, Oh, it didn't work. Then you go back to the doctor, another examination, retinal detachment, it's again, another procedure and other surgery. You just like, repeat, repeat, repeat. And after the 10th operation, that is when doctors, they basically put up the white flag and said, there's nothing else that we can do.

JOHN MOFFET: 

I mean, I can't even begin to it must have been so incredibly overwhelming. I mean, in alone, right? How do you How did you cope as an 18 year old as an eight year old

Lex Gillette: 

it was a lot of it was my mom, I remember all of those doctor's visits. I remember going through the process, I still was able to see to some degree. So I'm falling behind her and she's looking blurred, she's looking faint. The chairs that are inside of the doctors offices and walking out of the front door is all of those things are looking very disfigured and very faint. But I had to leverage the strength that my mom display, she actually has glaucoma, so she understands what what it's like to have visual impairment however she has she has usable sight. And, and yeah, I mean, I literally just had to, to learn from her. Yeah, everything.

JOHN MOFFET: 

And, and so this forced you then to take this world that you knew through site, and you had to kind of completely relearn the environment of how just to get to the school bus and things like that, tell me what that process was.

Lex Gillette: 

A lot of it was just being encouraged to, to explore it to discover, to get out there and to not be ashamed. Number one, not being able to, to see. And at an early age, my mom, let me know that yeah, this is the reality. And these beginning stages are going to be challenging, and we're going to have to transition from once being able to see the world and now not being able to see the world but there are accommodations there are different resources and things out there that we can tap into so that you can still be successful in life. So in my neighborhood, yes, I was able to see it at one point. But now I had to learn how to navigate using the change in textures under my feet as I walk so I knew that like imagining the neighborhood and my mind right now if we were to go there. Today, I will be able to escort you John around every single corner and crevice of that neighborhood because this car inside of my mind, and so I literally had to learn every single aspect of, of that neighborhood because mind you, in the beginning, it was just me learning a neighborhood. Once I got a little older it was, it was my mom teaching me how to, Alright, we gotta learn how to take out the trash, we got to learn how to, to wash dishes, and clean your room and all of those types of things you got to know where you got to know where to navigate to do all of those things. So it was me creating this image in my mind this map in my mind that was based on feeling based on sounds and understanding how to use those sounds in a way that will help guide my decisions as to how to proceed forward,

JOHN MOFFET: 

you know, well, as you were describing, your, your neighborhood as your childhood neighborhood, your face kind of transformed. You, you you completely zoned in and you got this relaxed smile on your face. It was it's like you almost sent yourself into another place.

Lex Gillette: 

Yeah, I love Like, I literally love that neighborhood. Just as I was explaining it a few moments ago, it was like I was reliving that whole error again, as being able to run around and, and run up those three stairs that led to the landing that would eventually get me to my front door, jumping off of that three foot high ledge that was in front of our apartment, landing in the grass below. Like, I love those things. I remember thinking to myself and all of the emotions and is flooded my entire being I could have just now just cried.

JOHN MOFFET: 

I'm telling you, I could tell you were just sent to another, another place. So once you were then inside your apartment, you had your mom teaching you the practical things like you said. But also there is I guess there's a there's a safety there, the inner familiarity that is I would think also very important to you. Because all of us when we grew up our first support network, our first community, or our family, and usually our parents explain what that was like.

Lex Gillette: 

That was huge. Yes, that home was that safe haven home was a space where I knew that I was good. I knew that I had the freedom to to be myself. I also knew that there were certain expectations of me, in the sense of Yeah, you are a child who's blind a child who has a disability, but I still expect you to do chores, I still expect you to get your homework done to have good grades. And in order for you to to participate in extracurricular activities. You gotta get good grades. Yeah, you have to, you have to have manners and use your manners to say thank you. And yeah, yes, ma'am. No, ma'am. All of those types of things. I literally if I didn't, if I didn't follow the the plan. You know, there was punishment. Right? I couldn't, I couldn't play outside with friends. I couldn't play your games, or I couldn't go to this community event or or this camp or whatever it was. So I knew that. I had I had responsibilities. And I have priorities. Yeah.

JOHN MOFFET: 

And how did your mother ultimately influence who you've become today?

Lex Gillette: 

I think that daily display of perseverance of not allowing the world to dictate to you who you are, again, my mom, she she doesn't drive. Me she always got to work on time. Right. She always made a home, have food on the table. I can't even I can't remember Christmas where I woke up unhappy. I had everything that I could possibly imagine I had clothes, shoes, money to go on field trips, money to go to different camps and once I got into athletics, she found the resources and found found the things that I would need to excel in sports as well. So definitely a very diverse offering of so many different things in it. Horace I'm living, I'm living life right now through the athletic lens, and so many other things as well. But at that time, it was having different internships and being exposed to computers and Accessible Technology. Being a mentor for other kids who are learning about technology or learning about different subjects in school, I'm a, I'm a numbers person, I'm really good at math, tutor people in math before. And yeah, it was just her really providing so many different things for me, so that I could truly spread my wings and fly, discover what it is that discover that path that I would want to want to travel down

JOHN MOFFET: 

another person in your life that was a big part of your support network, you have a really interesting passage in your book describing how your grandmother's house is where you would have all kinds of imaginary adventures. And you write that quote, she gave you freedom of the mind, how did all that happen with your grandma,

Lex Gillette: 

my grandma lives in the small town where the average person might go there and say, there's not much here a couple 1000 people, my grandma has this small house where it's really, if you're looking at the house from the front, there is a large tree to the left hand side and there was this chain that hung from one of the branches and this is like an old I would have to imagine this is an oak tree. Big old tree, you spread your arms and you can't even wrap your arms around the tree she has a very large backyard and that served as my trampoline and to imagination and fun in and long before I traveled to Athens or Beijing or Brazil or all of these different places. No my grandma and I we were going to those places and our minds that she bought me this this really it was this black 18 Wheeler toy truck put batteries in the bottom of it had a horn on the top of it you want while he was making the sounds and you could crank it up on the side had the trailer on the back and I'm I'm driving this truck on the living room floor and she's engaging in in my in my travels and imagination. Okay, where are you? Lexis? Nobody at home. Nobody calls me Lex is Lex is

JOHN MOFFET: 

your full name is Alexis. Yeah,

Lex Gillette: 

yeah. Yeah, I'm I'm at home and and I'm just in the comfort of, of my family. My grandmother is she's right along with me enjoying these trips from Raleigh, North Carolina to Dallas, Texas, or driving that truck to Sacramento, California. We would even she she watches Jeopardy every day at 7pm. And we would compete against each other answering different questions by this point. And I was I was a little older. But again, it was just her really tapping into that. That mental side of things. The imagination in again, going back to when I was very, very young. When it would rain, torrential downpours, she has these there are holes in her backyard. And when it would rain, those holes would fill up water. And we would pretend to be fishing or she would give me these rain boots that she had. I'm sure that this time so they're probably coming up to my waist. And I'm splashing around in the water and we're pretending that we're fishing and we're swimming and we're catching these exotic animals in the water. Um, yeah, like that was that was everything. And I think that also to in the world that we live in right now. A lot of conversations have been amplified around, say diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility. And so long before those terms were those terms were put on the loudspeaker. I think that my my grandmother she was tapping into that you think about accessibility. She has a there's a faucet on the side of the house on the outside of the house. connected to it is one of those green water hoses. And what she would do is she would take that water hose and Stretch it into the backyard straight into the backyard from the side of the house. So what that did for me was those times when I would want to go outside, and maybe she would know she didn't want to go outside or maybe it was a little too hot or whatever, I could go out there by myself. And where she stretched that water hose, it was in direct line of sight to the back door, the the windows that line the back of the house, as well as the, the windows that were in front of the kitchen sink. So the entire back of the house is basically made up of Windows. So she could sit inside in the dining room reading their paper and, and glance up from time to time and see what I'm doing in the backyard. Whenever I wanted to make my way back home. I knew to navigate to that garden hose. And I can follow that garden hose filling it under my feet as I walked. And as I got close to the house, then I knew that I could take one step two steps to the right hand side. And that would lead me to the stairs that led up to the back door knock welcome back.

JOHN MOFFET: 

So so that garden hose would literally leave you lead you into the safety of Grandma's house. Yeah. Wow, what a story. You also tell a story in your book about how you always left basketball, and that at some point in your childhood, you set up one of those little mini nerf basketball hoops in your bedroom. And you're quite literally taking shots in the dark. But how how was it that you are able to learn how to ultimately sink baskets without being able to see it.

Lex Gillette: 

It was all based on where things were positioned in my room, have my bed, had my wardrobe, had a desk had the window that was in the corner of the room. So based on where those things were positioned, I had an idea of where that basketball hoop was. And the course in the beginning, I'm shooting the ball and it's it's bouncing all over the place. bouncing off the wall, backboard, RIM, all of those types of things, but eventually, with the power that lies within mentally as well as muscle memory. It became something that I knew Okay, well if I stand here, and my back is to the wardrobe, when I shoot. Okay, it's gonna go in. Alright, I'm standing at the the the window and my room, shoot across the length of the room. Okay, it's going in. If I am standing diagonally toward more toward my nightstand that is beside my bed. I'm having the angle a little differently. Shoot, it's going wow. And and yeah, it was just all based on the positioning of those different those different things that were in my room.

JOHN MOFFET: 

So you're creating his vision, the right word, you're creating an image, a vision of what your room is, without being able to see it.

Lex Gillette: 

Yeah. Yeah. And then eventually turned to I'm speaking in the terms of the bed, the nightstand wardrobe window, door that leads into my room, those things eventually turned into into spectators into large stadiums into half court logos. And so now it wasn't, it wasn't a bedroom anymore. It was the actual stadium where I was performing and competing.

JOHN MOFFET: 

Wow. Your first kind of foray into athletics and first time you started realizing and getting encouragement for your athletic prowess was during something called the Presidential physical fitness tests. I took those two as a kid and you and I have very, very similar moments. In that. I discovered that I was a good athlete that I was strong and had a lot of endurance because I could jump farther than anybody everybody else. But I could also do endless push ups and setups right. And I was just really, really good at it. And you had the same experience. How was this presidential physical fitness test? A pivotal moment in your life as far as letting you know that? Yeah, you've got some you got some springs.

Lex Gillette: 

Yeah. It was used because literally speaking And it gave me the opportunity to see that, yes, I did have talents athletically. My mom's side of the family is the athletic side. And they've they've played it off from softball to baseball to basketball, you know, they're just out there. And everybody literally my, my grandmother, you know, she's, she was still playing sports. When I, I remember going down to my grandmother's hometown, or my family's hometown. And at that time, I still could kind of see I was pretty young. And they were all playing adult league softball or my grandma, they would go out into the backyard and play games and things like that. So my like my entire family is they're pretty athletic. And going back to that, that fitness test. It number one was showing me that I had a lot of the same gifts and abilities that my family had. Number two, it helped me see that okay. I am doing very well in these activities, and also doing a lot better than some of my sighted peers. And then I think number three, it showed me that for so much of the time that I've been living, you hear? No, from the outside world? No, my mom and Mr. Whitmer and all of the people who make up my what I consider my family, my tribe, my you know, my those are the people who are your community. Yeah, my community. Anyone outside of that space? More times than not you are hearing what you couldn't do or you are being questioned. As to Are you sure about this? Are you sure you're gonna be able to do and in that Presidential Fitness Test? There wasn't anyone judging me. It was me stepping into that space. And putting on display. What I had the ability to, to do.

JOHN MOFFET: 

Yeah, and it and for me, that physical fitness test ignited something. Yeah, I didn't quite know is there sounds like the same for you.

Lex Gillette: 

Yeah, totally. Totally. When I did, we had to push ups we had to sit ups. I'm pretty sure there were some other things but there was also standing long jump. Yeah. When I took my first standing long jump, it was like, Oh, my God, what do we what did we just witness

Unknown: 

don't go anywhere. We'll be right back with some more sports life balance.

JOHN MOFFET: 

I want to tell you about our partner ROKA, I've been wearing their industry leading wetsuits and goggles and swimsuits for years, but ROKA also makes amazing eyeglasses and sunglasses. And they're designed for those of us who like to push ourselves physically, but want to look good doing it. And I know this firsthand, because I own several pairs, and they're incredibly light and they won't slip off my face, even when I'm working out. And the best part is you can try them on at home before you buy them. ROKA will send you your choice of four frames, and then order your favorite. It's that simple. So go to roka.com That's R-O-K-A DOT COM and enter Code S L B as in sports life balance. That's just three letters, s - l - b to save 20% on all your orders. And that's worth anything on their website. And now let's get back to the episode with Lex Gillette.

Lex Gillette: 

When I took my first standing long jump, it was like, Oh, my God, what did we what did we just witness? We had to take a second one. I exceeded the the first one and it ended up being around 10 feet. So just to make sure that it wasn't a fluke. We had all stayed after class. And Mr. Whitmer and a couple of the other gym teachers were like, alright, let's let's see. And so I took another one in duplicated that 10 foot jump from Nerea was your mind starts racing. At that time. I didn't know about Paralympics. Yeah, right. So I literally was just like, Okay, well, this is really cool. I know. Like I can jump far. But Mr. Whitmer was the one who he knew about

JOHN MOFFET: 

adaptive sports and ran and was he a PE teacher or

Lex Gillette: 

he was a teacher of the visually impaired although He did. He had, he wore a lot of hats. Okay. He's a PE teacher, I think he was an assistant basketball coach. But yeah, he was the one who he was. He used to go to this, this sports education camp that was hosted by the United States association for blind athletes. And each year, he would go up there, volunteer, he would also take athletes up there. And I eventually became one of those athletes who he took to this camp in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

JOHN MOFFET: 

And is that where you learned actually how to long jump? Yeah. Long jump without your sight? I mean, I can only imagine it must have been terrifying, especially especially at the beginning. Yeah. How do you even go about learning how to do that? And it tell tell me about the process a little bit.

Lex Gillette: 

I think what really helped me is the fact that going back to Crown Court in my neighborhood, it had gotten to the point where I was really comfortable and running around that space. And I could, you know, those three stairs that I talked about, walking up that that led to that would eventually lead me to my front door, I would clear those stairs with one with one leap. There was this ledge in front of the front front of the house that I would jump off and things like that. So I had some jumping abilities. But now that we discovered I had a pretty good standing long jump, it was putting that talent in to the actual sport itself, which yes, when somebody is asking you to sprint as fast as you can to propel yourself through the air and land into a sandpit. Yeah, it is scary, because now this is, this is a calculated, very specific type of thing. This isn't me running around my neighborhood and jumping into a huge patch of grass, where it doesn't matter where you land, I have to land within the boundaries of a rectangular sandpit, which is, yeah, but Mr. Whitmer was the one who he helped me to dial it in. And he explained everything to me. And I consider it a blessing that I was able to see at one point in time, because I have an idea of what certain things look like. So he literally showed me what the runway, how that is laid out, shows me how wide the runway is, how long it is, shows me that there's a takeoff board that's in the ground. And that is where you are required to jump from shows me the sandpit how wide it is how long it is. When I engage with an environment in that capacity, it's like I'm learning Crown Court over again, it's like I'm tapping into that ability to create these, these mental images, which, at the end of the day, that is helping me to see what it is that I'm dealing with. And when I have that picture on my mind, it allows me to maneuver with a certain type of confidence. That is, you know, it's, it's uncanny. So So, now that I knew the layout, it was actually doing it which he said, I'm gonna stand and stand and clap and yell, I'm gonna be able to take our board straight, straight, straight, straight straight

JOHN MOFFET: 

out. So he's he's where your tape where you're about to take off. So you're kind of you're honing in on the sound

Lex Gillette: 

exactly. Listening to where he's standing. We determine how many steps I take, which that is, that's what you do in loans on whether you can see or not. Yep, from near is me counting those strides. At the right stride, jumps over to the air and land in the sand. Those first few ones, you can't even classify them as jumps. They were like, they probably will little hops, baby hops. But having Mr. Whitmer there and having that person who, at a time I couldn't really see it, myself, to have someone there who could see it. And who could give you that. That positive reinforcement, that encouragement, that guidance letting you know that this ground is completely flat, there's nothing that you're going to trip over. You have grass on either side of the runway, this is this is flat. If you run off of the runway, you're not going to fall off of the ledge or off of the curb. There aren't any poles around. You're not going to introduce yourself. I just want you to listen to the sound of my voice. Trust me. Count your strides and not the right step. I want you to jump forward and the sound will be waiting for you

JOHN MOFFET: 

Yeah. So it's like the ultimate and trust exercise that you're learning as well. Yeah. You know, athletics for I mean, you ask any athlete and athletics was liberating. And it was invigorating and it helped me at least navigate through adolescence. Tell me about how you were able to navigate through high school where you really want to fit in and yeah, you, you have some unique challenges that you need to deal with. Yeah.

Lex Gillette: 

At first it was being at Athens drive High School, it was, okay, we have a student who's blind. He's in our class, he, you know, some people might have thought that I was kind of smart, or he's a little different. And that was purely because of my disability. But once once that people got a a whiff and a sight, they were able to see that I had some athletic talent. Yeah. The whole scene changes like you are the view that kid on the basketball team football team, and you're pretty good. The kids look at you differently. I was on the track team. By the time I was a junior, wasn't that good in the beginning, but toward the end of the season, that is when I really started to excel. And I became one of the better jumpers on our attract team. We had our announcements on on TV. So we had a you know, like a production team. And they would, they would do the announcements on TV before a class would start. It got to the point where I was, I was I was on TV. I walked in, walked through the halls and be in the cafeteria in the gym and likes dislikes. So it's just a total. Your your whole, your swagger changes. Yeah. Right. Like, man, this is kind of nice. And

JOHN MOFFET: 

he found he found some power and some inside yourself. Yeah,

Lex Gillette: 

exactly. It wasn't. It wasn't me as that kid who was kind of, I wouldn't say I stuck to myself. But I had no issue with doing things independently. And just, you know, rocking out to the beat of my own drum. Now it was alright. I'm walking through groups and crowds in the hallway. And they're like, oh, man, what's up? Lex was so relaxed. Like it was just a total different experience. It was it was really very invigorating.

JOHN MOFFET: 

Yeah. And, and from there from high school is when you you really started developing yourself as a international athlete then.

Lex Gillette: 

Yeah, yeah, it was Mr. Whitmer and I, we had trained the summer in between my junior and senior year, that we were really able to make some huge deposits. Being in the weight room, going into the track. My senior year in high school, that is when I was probably the most consistent jumper on our team, one of the better jumpers and so you can imagine going to visiting schools, kids being out there seeing me and I can totally feel the eyes watching other competitors Green from Green Hope High School of Bratan or whoever we would compete against, some of them would come up to me and they would ask different questions. Are you competing today? And me know, how far do you jump? And so those questions they they typically came across as very condescending. And also, you know, let me correct myself maybe not condescending, but just very not genuine.

JOHN MOFFET: 

They unwell under estimating. Yeah. you because of your

Lex Gillette: 

decimal out. Yeah, that's what it that's what it appeared to be. That's what it sounded like. Or maybe I just took it that way. So when they would ask me Oh, how far do you jump? I would intentionally tell them something. Too, totally just fall out of blue. Like I'm only only jumped like 13 feet. And sorry. Oh, okay. So it would confirm what I believed that their thoughts were in competition with start. I'm jumping 1819 feet. And some of them they're only jumping 17 feet. Maybe some of them are jumping 18 Eventually I get to the point where I'm jumping 20 And so it's a it's a different type of it's a different type of sting. When you Have someone who's blind or someone who has a disability and they are beating you in, in athletics and sports, you know, for someone who may not have a disability, you know, is I would imagine that it's probably humbling. And I got so much joy from that

JOHN MOFFET: 

from, from blockbusting, just

Lex Gillette: 

from just putting them in their place. And

JOHN MOFFET: 

do you think that Paralympic athletes in general have to deal with that just by nature of who they are and their disabilities think they're underestimating?

Lex Gillette: 

Maybe not, maybe not all of them. But I think that there are a lot of athletes who have experienced that Paralympic athletes, Paralympic hopefuls who have experienced that, because the average person looks, I think it's just human nature for us to step into certain situations, not all, but certain situations. And, and you compare and contrast, yeah, say you're on, you're on a basketball team, and you see a team that you're going to play from another state, maybe a team that you haven't really, you don't have a lot of footage on, and you're looking at them. And it's like, oh, man, they got somebody who's 610 They got another person that's 6768, well, 61626 foot, and you're starting to think in your mind, oh, man, there's no possible way that we're gonna go in here and slay these giants. Whereas when you get on the court, and that ball goes up, it doesn't really matter anymore. It's about execution. And who is bringing their their A game, and those those giants as they seem as they look, you know, they might not have the same abilities and skill sets that you have. And you're using, the gifts that you've been blessed with to, to get the win. And, you know, I think, you know, in our in our case, I would imagine that there certainly are a lot of cases where people underestimate us and say, Okay, well, this and their mind, they may not say it out loud, but in their minds like, Okay, we don't have to worry about much today. Well, as soon as the whistle blows, is Game On?

JOHN MOFFET: 

Yeah. Well, that's the definition of an athlete. Right? You know, we're talking about support a little bit earlier. And I think that all athletes, not just para para athletes have to rely upon their team. And I can't think of any more vital piece of your teamwork was is your guide. And we spoke about a little bit earlier, but tell me about the importance of that person who is his is your partner in making sure that you're safe and making sure that you're successful in jumping into the pit?

Lex Gillette: 

Yeah, none of the the metals, the records, the none of those things are possible without my guide, Wesley, Wesley Williams, and he is he's the air traffic controller, he is making sure that the runway is clear. And that I have the safest skies to fly. Yeah, he provides the the auditory cues, he's down there yelling, fly, fly, fly, fly as loud as you can. I lock into the sound of his voice and from there is running as fast as possible to the sound of his voice. A lot of people think that he is telling me when to jump, or that he tells me when to jump. But he's, he's literally there to make sure that I'm safe to make sure that I stay in the middle of the runway, right. And I know that I'm still in um, I know that I'm in a safe space because he's yelling fly. That is my, that's my green signal.

JOHN MOFFET: 

And if you're not in the safe space,

Lex Gillette: 

he says stop. Got it. In we'll go back. Okay, to the Start mark. Now, sometimes I might veer slightly to the left or slightly to the right. And he has his his his bag of tools where he'll either manipulate his his voice by maybe yelling louder or maybe yelling softer or maybe stepping slightly too. If I'm veering too far to the left hand side in order to bring me more towards the middle of the runway. That mean he that means he's needing to step to his left hand side

JOHN MOFFET: 

so he's kind of right hand steering you exactly action of his voice.

Lex Gillette: 

Exactly. But if I get too, if I veer too far off, then he yells Stop, stop. Okay, so he's working his magic. Only thing that I'm doing is following his voice, counting my steps. And at step 16. I noted is go time It's time to, it's gonna take off. It's time to fly. Exactly.

JOHN MOFFET: 

You know, I'm reminded of a story and that I it's actually an interview that I saw of the late golden gold medalist, the great bobsled driver, Steve Holcomb, yo. And in this interview that I saw, he spoke of that he had an eye disease, I believe it's called keratoconus. And he was learning to drive down a down a bobsled track at 90 plus miles an hour, while slowly losing his sight. So He attributes his great driving skill to the fact that he was able to drive by feel your than vision. Yeah. Can you relate to that? Is there a part of you and your, your other senses picking up their acuity? So that make you the athlete that you are?

Lex Gillette: 

Totally, I think that the the feel? That is that's huge. Understanding how the ground feels under my feet, understanding how my body is maneuvering through space. People always ask me, oh, what's your sixth sense? And I would say that it is my is my spatial awareness. Whether I'm competing, whether I'm walking through the city, navigating through different areas, I am always aware, I know exactly where I am. In space. It's almost it's freaky at times, because I'm able to detect certain things before my cane actually touches those things. And is, is very interesting, because I remember having this conversation with with, with Steve, he had come out to the training center and a couple of times. And so you know, I remember him saying that, eventually, I want to say he had gotten the procedure done to to fix that condition that he was dealing with. And so he was able to see a lot clearer. And I remember him saying that it was almost like it was scarier now because he could see. Okay, wow. And and so I felt like that was really, that was really interesting, like, you see too much. And I always get the question. If you ever had the opportunity to get your site back. Would you take it? And emphatic no. Wow. emphatic no, I think that it would totally ruin, I just think that it would ruin so many different things, I just feel like so much of the world is, is visual. And even if we take it out of the sports context, there are since things are driven by this, this visual context, you can, you can edit things, and you can alter things and you can change things and, and, and I don't think that I don't think that is giving us the purest, authentic view of the world and is beauty. Like being able to listen, like waking up in the morning and in hearing the birds chirping, being able to walk around and to smell the freshness of the air and to just be in your own space walking around and, and just, you know, tapping into that ability to, to feel your environment to like all of those things. I think that since people are so focused on what they're I see, it drowns out in certain ways. The ability to really tap into those other senses and other abilities.

JOHN MOFFET: 

So what would be your advice to somebody like me, for example, who has my sight? to, I guess, to help create more depth to my upper Association and and ultimately, the name of this podcast is sports life balance and maybe create that balance and that happiness and that centered Ness that you seem to be speaking of. Yeah, what what would you suggest?

Lex Gillette: 

I think one of the things one of my buddies and I, we we recently started a nonprofit called Site school. And so our main focus and goal is to teach people to see their potential. And one of the things that we wanted to do, very simple, but to task people with trying just very simple things, without being able to see, for example, you wake up in the morning, you brush your teeth, you close your eyes, and then squeeze the toothpaste on your toothbrush, see if you can do it, close your eyes and walk up those stairs that are in your home the same stairs that you walk up every single day. Maybe even, it'll take, take time to just close your eyes and walk around your home. And I believe that what that is doing is you're you're tapping into a different a different system, you're you're tapping into that ability to kind of feel where you are in space to understand what is beneath your feet or what is underneath your hands. This is really exposing, exposing you to another part of the world, like a world that again, you know, it kind of gets drowned out by all of the scenes. Yeah, yeah. Not sure looking like, I want people to transcend beyond sight like I have. My slogan is no need for sight when you have a vision. And I know that. For me, it was very challenging at an early age because I couldn't see anything and you think about you need to see the drive. Although though that will probably be no more here at some point in the future. But as it stands, right now you need to see the drive or you're in a room and you're looking across the way you can see someone's facial expression, you can you can basically say something to someone else without even uttering a word. Because you could see a smiling face, or it could be a certain expression where you like, oh, I mean, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that, right. You know, I can't, I can't do any of those things. And I felt disconnected. But what really brought things back to focus is, at the end of the day, I think about you think about sight, and that is our ability to see what is currently in front of us. You know, we're in this room right now. And we have the table here and we're sitting in chairs. All of those things were once non existent, the only place that they existed. Were in someone's mind. I told myself that Alright, well, if this is, if it really does happen this way. It doesn't matter whether or not I can see, the only thing that I need is to have this idea of this vision. And if it is a vision, I believe vision to be something that transforms minds, perceptions, communities, cultures, society, the world. It's something of that magnitude absolutely requires other people. Yeah, we are all different. We have different skill sets, talents, abilities, gifts. So those areas where I might not be as I might not be as skilled. There's someone else who is B and we are playing on words here. We connect together and we acquire a similar visual acuity. And we develop this plan and do everything in our power to bring that vision into fruition. And that is that is our ability to transcend beyond what our eyes see. Because something like yeah, I want to I want to win gold. I want to do all of these things in the sport and you don't physically see those things in the beginning. But with your coach, strength and conditioning coach dieticians mental performance coaches, so many different people you mesh your skills together and eventually years down the line. You're standing on that podium experiencing what you saw years ago. Wow.

JOHN MOFFET: 

Yeah, yeah, I you know, I've thought about this quite a bit after reading your book and just trying to get my head around it. You know, I as an athlete, I will So I've visualized a lot. And you visualize a lot. And I know I know what it looks like, I know what you know, my best events look like. And I wonder how your visualization is different because you don't you don't have sight. And I believe you had never, you haven't even ever seen what long term

Lex Gillette: 

looks like like?

JOHN MOFFET: 

Do you think it goes back to what you learned at, for example, your grandma's house? About like, imaginary adventures? Yeah, I

Lex Gillette: 

definitely think so. It's like, she was planting those seeds in my mind, and early age and really encouraging me to be curious. To ask questions, I even think about, we had this small, the small convenience store. That was I would say about two or three houses down from her grandma's house or my grandmother's house. So you walk off of the front porch, turn to the left hand side, I would be walking, where the grass line in the street met in this like little small like, two lane Street is not getting much activity, she will be on the porch, she will be watching. If I got off course she wouldn't. Alright, go go to the go to the left, go to the left. But after I got familiar with that path, I knew that once that ground began to decline in the grass turn from it turned from grass to dirt, I knew that I will be approaching the stairs to that store, knock a walk up those wooden stairs, open the screen door go inside and cousin lady, a store owner, she would know she obviously knew me. And she would get up and go behind the girl behind the counter. And there was the sodas in there and cookies in there and the pickles and chips and all of these types of things where she Alright, wait what you want baby. You know, my grandma would give me $1 or something. And you know, at that time, this is it. This is like, sometime in the 90s I was able to get so much with that dollar in that small town. And she would give me my items. Encourage me to she would let me know how much it was. And I will bring the change back home. Made sure I had will actually make sure I had to correct change and then you know, make my way back out of the store down those stairs and follow that same path back to my grandmother's house and she will be on the on the porch waiting. So it will so many different things that you know at that particular time. At that age, it's like oh, you know, I'm just having fun and doing the things that I enjoy. But you look back on those moments and times and realize how impactful it was in your growth and development. Yes, as a person.

JOHN MOFFET: 

I was also thinking that you're the only current active athlete that I had on sports life balance on everybody else's been been retired. And you you've gone to five consecutive Paralympic Games starting in Athens. Correct. And you've won five consecutive silver medals, including in Tokyo last summer. It's an amazing feat by any standard, right. But I also heard you say you you you aim to win. Right is that elusive golden metal, frustrating or energizing for you? Today?

Lex Gillette: 

Tokyo was frustrating. All of the other ones. All of the other ones I will say I'm sorry, Tokyo and Rio were frustrating. And I'll explain 2004 was just that was my first one. Yes. Did I go into that competition aiming to win? Absolutely. It didn't happen. But I also was able to swallow that given the fact that I was 19 years old first time. Yeah, that was my first I started training in when I was 1617 years old. So to even make it to my first Paralympics within those two, three years. I just had to say okay 2008 I had a little hiccup that it was that was my fault. I typically jump from 16 strides and my long jump approach and I accidentally jumped from 14 Oh wow. And still made it into the sand and it was a great jump. But it wasn't from the board so I lost a lot of distance and Uh, but again, I was something that I could totally put on all myself on my shoulders. Right? fine with that 2012 I had gotten I gotten injured. Now I always hate like talking, talking about injuries and things like that, because for the outside world as they are sounds like those are excuses, etc, etc. But yeah, I did, I had a, like a grade three, grade two slash three, quiet strain two months before the games. And so I was offered a track for four to five weeks. And I had about, I don't know, two, three weeks to get ready prior to London. So for me to win that silver in London, even though I still felt like I could have won. Looking back on those results. It just, it wasn't in the cards. You know, I'm I can accept that. Rio was frustrating because we, as as totally blind athletes are usually granted silence when we're competing in the crowd was not silent. There was a lot of music that was being played inside of the stadium, the PA announcer was constantly talking. I asked Wes Wesley to talk to the officials and let them know that it's kind of loud down here. Can we get some silence? And apparently, they, they basically said that they couldn't do anything about that. The reason that I have an issue with that particular competition is because when you are totally blind, you need to hear your guide. And this wasn't something that was just solely lecture let like, oh, okay, I can't hear anything, this was a lot of my competitors. And I would much rather all of us have silence so that whoever wins, hopefully me, I would be able to look at that and say, you know, like I won fair and square, there wasn't, there wasn't any sort of competitive advantage that I was given. That led me to the gold. We, there were other guides out there. I remember one of the guys from Spain, I think he had tried to get the crowd to quiet down and they booed him. Oh my gosh. So it was just a it was a very it was a wild environment. And to. To make matters worse, what really made it challenging is the fact that I had I was basically in the back of the pack. So I'm in like 10th. And in we have the prelims I need this last jump to be a good one. So I can get into the the top eight, which the top eight go for the metals, okay. So eventually, boom, boom, boom, run down the runway, boom. And I catapult into, like, sixth place. So I was like, Alright, good. At least I'm in a space where, like, I have a shot now. I on my fifth jump, I believe went from sixth place to to the gold medal position. Oh, wow. So you had a really good job. Yeah. So

JOHN MOFFET: 

are you just having an off day,

Lex Gillette: 

it was not an off day, I felt great. Oh, it was a matter that I was literally trying to, I could not hear Wesley. It was like I was listening to a very muffled voice and muffled. And that was all because of the external sounds. Luckily, I was able to get that jump in. But I knew that I was like, Alright, that was decent. But that wasn't that wasn't any, anywhere close to what I had in the tank. So I just told myself that I was able to do it. Then on my sixth jump, I'll be able to, to run it back and, and have an even better mark. So I take off, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, running on a runway. And within the like, I don't know, the middle of the approach. The crowd, they start yelling in and there's a lot of chaos again. In my mind, I told myself, alright, well I can, I can try and put on the brakes. Because there is a decent amount of real estate but I had already I was at top end speed by this point. And so my fear was if I try to stop now. I'm not going to I'm not going to be able to totally cease the run before I touch the board. And if I touch the board, that's going to be That's a foul, right. So I just trusted in my abilities and just told myself that I was Wesley's in front of you. Let's Let's go. And I jumped when I landed in the sand. I knew it didn't. I knew it didn't exceed my previous mark. So now I was in a position where I was praying to God that I hopefully nobody passed me up right. Everybody else's jumping. The Brazilian guy comes up to the runway it and I kid you not. The PA announcer comes on the microphone. And this is what typically happens for us. He goes Sheesh, they put the silence on the on the Jumbotron, the entire crowd. So that silent. So now I'm listening to his guy like, man, he's only he's standing in front of me. That's how clear he sails in that is the same, that is what we are typically given in all of our competitions. And as any good athlete, the Brazilian guy, ran down the runway, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, jumped, lands in the sand. We wait a few seconds. Wesley comes over to me, and he's just like, man, come on, like, we're both on pins and needles. Like, he didn't get it. He didn't, he didn't get it, he didn't get it. crowd goes crazy. And I knew I already know, I already knew what had happened. And, you know, I just bury my head and, and Wesley's shoulder and I was like, Joe, there's no way that this this does happen. It was like a movie. And, and again, like after, after that event, you know, we go into the mix zone and have to talk to the reporters and things like that. And I was just, I was at a space where I wasn't fully able to digest and interpret what had happened. Yeah. And, and, you know, I talked to a few people, and and I just had to, you know, I was in tears by that point, I just, I just left, because, you know, I had to apologize to them. You know, in real time, as we were standing there, like, No, I just, you know, I just, I'm sorry, like, I can't give you my best right now. And again, that was largely because I just felt like the competition could have played out differently. And number one, first and foremost, just ensuring that we all had an equal playing field, which I don't feel like we had not saying that I would have won had it been totally silent for everyone. But at least we wouldn't have we wouldn't be having this discussion right now. No. So that was done, Tokyo. Tokyo was more so I was like, man, there's no way I'm leaving this place. Without a gold medal. I felt good. I felt fast. My very first jump, just barely found it, and landed in the sand. And based off where I landed, I was like, oh, it's gonna be a great day, I only took like one step to get to the back of the pit. So I knew that was a huge one. And from there, my coach, he was like, Alright, we're gonna back up a little bit. Because you just have a lot of speed. And, and, and yeah, like, it's just looking good right now. And yeah, I think now that I have an opportunity to fully look back on that competition. I think that, number one, I wasn't able to duplicate that that same. That same drive speed, perfection that I had, and then first attempt. It could be a lot of things. I think that now as an older athlete, one of the things that looking into Paris, that I want to do is to find some different things that I can do in the meantime, between jumpers because there's a lot of idle time that we have. And you know, being in your mid 30s, I can't really, you know, I'm not 21 anymore. You got to train differently to get up. Yeah, I could just get up and make it happen. So I just think that it was a matter of alright. I just got to really make sure that I'm staying, then I'm moving around and I'm staying warm. Because the other thing is that our event, it usually takes around an hour and a half, two hours. The reason being is because since they are asking the crowd to be quiet, they're doing that in between events. Mo samurais. Yeah, all of those types of things. So if a metal ceremony is going on, they pause our event. If the start of the 100 is going on, they pause our event. Yeah. So there's a lot of there's just a lot of time that you're sitting around. And so yeah, I think that going into Paris, I'm gonna switch up switch it up a little bit. Yeah, but um, yeah, I mean, I as much as I, as much as I am glad that I have gotten on the podium at all of the games that I've competed in. Know winning. Silver has never been my goal. It is always been to win. Have a gold medal. And I do believe that that will happen before I hang the shoes

JOHN MOFFET: 

up. And like Michael Jordan, that is what is one of the things that's fueling you to for two more years until you make this. Yeah. On your website, and you mentioned this lexical left lex jillette.com. The first thing that you read and you mentioned this, it's your you, it's a slogan that you use is no need for sight when you have vision. So give us some final thoughts about how all of us can learn from your lessons in sports.

Lex Gillette: 

Yeah, I think that it is. So again, going back to the site site is constantly changing. You you wake up, sunny outside, you wake up gloomy outside, you wake up, you see certain things that you might not see tomorrow, and that in a lot of ways, dictates to us, how we feel and how we maneuver forward. Whereas your vision is, thus more of something that is static, that is your ability to see something before it exists. You see beyond the horizon, you see where it is that you want, where you want to go, what you want to do and who you want to become. When you have that, that allows you to see hope, success, glory, even within the times of despair, or challenges, or, or obstacles in that is what gets you out of the bed every single morning doesn't mean that there is a problem with you doesn't mean that there's a problem that you don't feel like training today? Or does it mean that there's a problem with, you know, I want to maybe I want this, this ice cream bar or something I don't know. But it just means that you have the starting piece, the starting point, and that is seeing what it is, that is possible. And the mission from there is to. And I'll pause a second and say just because you see it doesn't guarantee success. Seeing is literally just the starting point. And from there it is your requirement to develop a plan to connect with the right people. And to do everything in your power to bring that vision into fruition. As you maneuver down that path externally, there's going to be a lot of things that might try to knock you off of that, that path, knock you off of that road. distractions can be people wanting you to come hang out or do this are you wanting to stay up and all of those types of things, but you really have to stay locked into that, into that vision and, and what you see. And the beauty of it is as you stay on that path each and every single day. For example, you see that? That training regimen that your coach gives you, you want to be at a certain space. And this periodization going into the next periodization or training cycle, you want to be running this speed or lifting, lifting this amount of weight, you're able to see those gains, you're able to see those performance measures being achieved. In the beginning, your vision is something that it appears as though it like it's miles away. And as you continue to see those daily wins, and those daily achievements, that vision it gets closer and closer and closer. Until it is at the point where you can reach your left and right. Reach out to your left to right. And totally just like hug the vision.

JOHN MOFFET: 

Wow. Beautifully said. Well, thank you so much for having us here at the elite training facility and your home and you need to go train. But thank you so much for spending time with us. Telling us your thoughts and and for being on sports life balance.

Lex Gillette: 

I appreciate it, John. It's my pleasure. I'm glad

JOHN MOFFET: 

Me too. Thanks, Lex. Bye As has become a bit of you had me on. a tradition here at SLB Lex would like to leave you with a quote that gives him boundless motivation. It's from the great heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali, and it goes like this. The man who has no imagination has no wings. Clearly Lex still embracing all those lessons he learned many years ago from his grandmother. If you'd like to follow Lex as he trains for the Paris Paralympic Games in 2024, go to his website at lexgillette.com. that's all one word, L-E-X-G-I-L-L-E-T-T-E DOT COM. I'm John Moffet. And thanks for joining us and as always, if you enjoyed this episode, please give us your five star review and do me a favor and spread the word. Hope you have a vision filled week.

INTRO: 

That's it. Come back again next week for another episode of sports life balance.

Lex Gillette Profile Photo

Lex Gillette

5x Paralympic Medalist, 4x World Champion, World Record Holder

Lex Gillette is the current world record holder in the long jump, a five-time Paralympic medalist, a four-time long jump world champion, and an 18-time national champion. Now totally blind, Lex lost his sight at an early age, but that hasn't stopped him from achieving his dreams. At the age of 19, Lex won his first Paralympic silver medal in the long jump.